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Jon Cowan
Non-profit leader

Jon Cowan

Jonathan Cowan is president and co-founder of Third Way, a think-tank of the progressive movement. In the Clinton administration, he served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Horse-back lessons

Q: How can a senior leader encourage junior leaders to act and make decisions when they find themselves without specific guidance? How can a junior leader know when it's right to take charge?

Starting at age seven, I rode horses. (And yes, that meant I was a rarity -- a Jewish cowboy). My instructor, Dianne, perfectly modeled this kind of empowering leadership. She never chided or judged me, though I rode as poorly as the guys in City Slickers at first.

Dianne insisted that I get back on when I was bucked off. She made me practice the same skill until I mastered it -- though I certainly wanted to quit. Above all, she helped me see myself as someone who could be fearless and confident, even as a puny kid on a huge horse.

Sure, it's not dramatic or high stakes like turning the tide in a battle, or winning a new piece of legislation, or landing a major client, but in those moments on horseback, the secrets of empowering leadership are all there -- teaching not just doing, patience, repetition, faith despite failure and above all, transmitting a vision of what someone can become.

By Jon Cowan

 |  April 22, 2010; 11:44 AM ET
Category:  Leadership development Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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